Tuesday, October 13, 2009


When you’re a feminist, everyday life is better. You make better decisions. You have better relationships. You don’t sweat the small stuff - what once seemed so important now feels so trivial. But most importantly, the sex is so much better...

Sure, the world can seem a darker place when your eyes are opened to the facts that women still only earn 80p to a man’s £1; one in four women will be victims of domestic violence in the UK; and some women are even still refused contraception or an abortion. As Gloria Steinem said, ‘the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.’ The statistics are shocking and difficult to deny, which is why it is so important that feminism is kept alive, in one form or another. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Feminism isn’t all about fighting to right these injustices, smashing glass-ceilings and campaigning for equality, there are some seriously seductive and truly tempting benefits.

Feminists love their bodies. In a society that tells women that they are not good enough, accepting and liking the way you look can be a rebellious and revolutionary act, with sexy repercussions. A feminist woman spends less time worrying about how her breasts look or trying to hide her cellulite with the duvet, and more time focusing on being in the moment and having fun. She knows what she wants and has the confidence to ask for it. Equally, she knows what she is not comfortable with and would not feel pressured into doing something that she would not enjoy. Jessica Valenti, founder of feministing.com and writer of many books on the topic, including ‘Full Frontal Feminism’ and ‘The Purity Myth’, says ‘Feminists do it better. Sorry, we just do. It makes sense - when you don't have to feel guilty, slutty or ashamed, when you feel free to have sex entirely on your own terms, it tends to be much more enjoyable.’ So much for that myth that feminists hate sex.

Feminists are also likely to be more open-minded in the bedroom, freed from inhibitions and the patriarchal nonsense that they were fed from a young age: that they are pretty, pure, dainty little things that ought not to have any power, nor strong sexual urges, and should keep their legs crossed until their 18th birthday, or else be labelled a slut. Any smart woman can see that it is a totally unfair double standard that when a woman behaves in the exact same way as a man and sleeps with whomever she chooses, she is a slut, but he is a stud. Feminists are liberated from these social hypocrisies, and realise that it is only counter-productive to call a fellow woman a ‘slut’, because it is her choice to do as she pleases.

However, some of the more extreme sexual practices she might partake in could been as contradictory to her feminist principles. Is it hypocritical to demand equal rights and fight the patriarchy by day, then submit to male domination by night? Is radical feminism mutually exclusive with radical sex?

Self-professed feminist Tina Richardson, told me that no, the two are not contradictory: ‘Feminism should empower a woman to feel as though she can embrace her desires, whatever they may be, and give her the strength to fulfill them.’ For Tina, feminism liberates her and gives her more confidence in the bedroom. But do her feminist principles mean that she should automatically dominate her partner? ‘Personally, being sexually submissive sometimes is not anti-feminist. I happen to enjoy being told what to do, but it is not degrading, nor does it mean that I want to be walked all over in day-to-day life. Being tied up or blind-folded occasionally does not compromise my right to seek advancement, empowerment and equality.’ Tina also pointed out that looks can be deceiving, and that she is the one who holds all of the power: ‘I may feel powerless, but ultimately, it is me who has the last say. There are code words and boundaries, so we only do what I feel comfortable with.’

It strikes me as yet another sexual double standard that women wish to express themselves sexually, society deems in inappropriate, but when a man seeks out a dominatrix, his status as a powerful man is not questioned. Feminism exists to break down these hypocrisies and to empower women. Feminism encourages women to make informed, considered decisions. It can not, however, dictate what these decisions are, just that women are making them for the right reason: their own personal pleasure.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


How English became English...

How many words are there in the English language? Well, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive record of Modern English, there are approximately 400,000. But, it has been argued that, even in the most conservative estimations, there are closer to double that amount in our current lexicon. It would be impossible to count, specifically, how many words there are in the English language; it’s a moving target (compare it to totting up the exact number of Russell Brand’s one-night stands – constantly growing and poses various unanswerable questions: do threesomes count as one, or two? What about casual fellatio in public lavvys?). It would all depend on what is considered a word. Do you count all the regional variations of English? What about slang? Or dialect? Or proper nouns such as place names? And what about abbreviations? The biggest dictionary of them has more than 400,000 entries — do they count as words?

There’s no denying that this wide range of vocabulary allows us to communicate more expressively and eloquently, but perhaps the reason the English language has accumulated so many words is that, over its 1500 year existence, it has been rather promiscuous and ‘borrowed’ from over 350 other languages. It was originally derived from Anglo-Saxon but has since proven accommodating to words from Latin, Greek, Spanish, American, German and Swedish origin. Over half of our language comes from French, or French cognate, and a percentage from Dutch. ‘Poppycock’ (not an expletive we hear often enough these days), for instance, feels inherently and traditionally English; a quaint and innocent exclamation last heard some time during World War II. But it originated from the Dutch word ‘poppekak’, literally translating as ‘doll’s shit’. In fact, if you dig deep enough into the etymology of any old, seemingly innocent insult or phrase, you’ll probably find that it is derived from something much more sinister.

At some point during your life you are likely to have used, or been the recipient of, the pejorative slang ‘berk’. Again, considered relatively light-hearted and affectionate as far as insults go: ‘Oh, what a berk! You utter prat, you silly twit, you!’ But it is a little known fact that the term is a vulgar cockney rhyming slang dating back as early as the 1930s. If I were to tell you that it is an abbreviation of ‘Berkeley Hunt’, it shouldn’t be too difficult to decipher the true, original meaning of the word.

These ‘loanwords’ and cockney rhyming slangs make English a hugely complicated and difficult language to learn: full of flaws and contradictions. Semantic enigmas that continue to perplex and baffle include why is ‘phonetic’ spelt with a ‘ph’? The bandage was wound around the wound. The farm was used to produce produce. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. The four little letters ‘ough’, can be pronounced in 14 completely different ways, making noises such as ‘uff’ and ‘ooh’, ‘ock’ and ‘ow’ and ‘awe’ and ‘off’. You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.

However nonsensical it may seem, it is still the first language for 375 million people, and the second for more than 500 million. Spoken across the globe by Americans, Australians, Canadians and South Africans, English is considered to be the ‘lingua franca’ or ‘world language’ of the modern age. So it would seem that it is not only the most widespread language geographically, but in terms of content and vocabulary, too. And it is forever expanding: the OED adds more than 1000 new words ever year, most recently including ‘Podcast’ and ‘thingamabob’. And it will continue to evolve; the OED removes old, unused, unwanted words. These dusty, archaic words have to make way for shiny new ones, like ‘frappuccino’ and ‘bovvered’.

Henry Hitchings, author of The Secret Lives of Words says: ‘The history of our vocabulary is the history of our place in the world.’ If this is true, then now, in 2008, surely we are at our most culturally rich and diverse as a country. No-one summarises this more vividly, expressively and passionately than the author, comedian, actor and genius that is Stephen Fry: ‘In London, our dear, beloved metropolis, you will see Medieval, Tudor, Elizabethan, Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, art deco, modernist buildings all jostled together; it’s a very higgledy-piggledy city.’

‘The English language is like London; a mongrel mouthful, whether we know it or not, of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, American South Central, ghetto rap, Australian convict talk, legal, naval and military. Every phrase we utter is an equivalent of London: it is both vulgar and procession; both grand and squalid.’

Whether the future of the language holds anything as significant as Shakespeare, or as original as Cockney rhyming slang is yet to be seen, but one thing is for certain: English is, and shall continue to be, as multicultural as the civilisation it embodies.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Elle are currently running a writing competition, called What Style Means To Me. Here is my entry - please let me know what you think before I send it in at the end of this week! Either comment on here, or you can find me on Twitter here. Thanks!

Ah, the eternal mystery: What is style? Never mind war, religion, or the meaning of life; the notion of ‘style’ has bemused people for decades. For many, style is an attitude, a way of life, an abstract concept: can’t quite put your finger on it... just out of reach. As Orson Welles said, ‘Create your own visual style. Let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.’ Style is distinctive, yet mysterious.

For the likes of Oscar Wilde, style meant everything: ‘In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing. Looking good and dressing well is a necessity. Having a purpose in life is not.’ In other words, it’s not about what you do, wear or say, it’s how you do, wear or say it; style conquers substance.

For Coco Chanel, style was an undying force, ‘Fashion passes, style remains’, an idea that fellow French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent echoed: ‘Fashions fade, but style is eternal’. I can’t help but adore this romanticised notion that style will always be elegant and classic. Style never goes out of style, because, by definition, it can never be wrong.

Fashion on the other hand... Well, that’s an entirely different story. Fashion is easily defined, as Edna Woolman Chase, Editor-in-Chief of US Vogue from 1914 to 1954, said, ‘Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess.’ She believed that style is innate; it cannot be taught. Style cannot be purchased, no matter what your budget. It cannot be found in a luxurious boutique on Sloane Street, an undiscovered vintage treasure trove, nor hiding out in the bargain basement of Primark, under a pair of 50p shoes. Style is free and accessible.

To the reigning Queen of style and anarchy Vivienne Westwood, style means being aware of who you really are, and not trying to be someone else. ‘People who make this effort in knowing what suits them - they are individual and stylish’. There’s no use trying to masquerade as something you are not, style should be natural and intuitive, without thought or consideration. It has taken some time, but now, as a curvy, top-heavy, size 12 woman of average height, I have learnt that perhaps I should give the latest trend of jeggings and crop-tops a miss. In experimenting what suits both my shape and my personality, I have developed my own style, which largely consists of floral tea dresses, wide, waist-cinching belts and killer heels.

Fashion can also be about escapism, but escapism is fleeting; you must eventually return to who you really are. Playing dress-up a la Lady Gaga can be fun, spectacular, outrageous even, but it is transparent. Style is being true to yourself and having the confidence to show your personality – no pretense.

The person who best summises what style means to me is Gore Vidal, ‘Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.’ Personally, style is rebellion. It’s not about following the crowd. With fashion, there is a complete lack of choice. You are either ‘on trend’ or ‘so last season.’ Style, on the other hand, is not formulaic, prescriptive or constrictive: there are no rules. This allows for so much creativity, personal freedom and self-expression, because there is no right or wrong. How liberating is that?

So style is about the abandonment of conformity, disregarding trends and restrictions (who knew it could be so deep?!). But I don’t choose style over substance. For me, style is substance. It’s about the form of expression rather than the content of the thought expressed. And yet, as I write this, there is another worshipper of fashion swooning at whatever Victoria Beckham is wearing today, and they will swear that she is the most stylish woman on the planet. Whereas I would have to confess that I think she is the ultimate fashion victim; tip-toeing her children to school in the latest Marc Jacob seven-inch stilettos, barely able to move her legs because her Roland Mouret rip-off DVB pencil-dress is pinching her too tight. But both of us are right, because when it comes to style, there is no wrong.

And so, the debate continues… What is the difference between fashion and style? Giorgio Armani once famously said that the difference is ‘quality’, but I disagree. I could go on to say how this tiresome idea has made his latest collections terribly safe, predictable and commercial… But that’s just not my style.

Monday, September 14, 2009


The picture that got me so excited!

Amid the Sex and the City movie madness, female journalists all posed the same question: Can a feminist really love Sex and the City? The fact that this is even being asked excites me even more than the prospect of the now confirmed sequel...

Speak to a young woman about gender issues or equal rights, they’d probably preface their response with: ‘I’m not a feminist, but...’, or worse, they’d simply shrug. Even strong, contemporary women are scared of being labelled a feminist, because of the tired, old stereotype of the butch, hairy, angry, man-hating, anti-marriage, anti-pornography, bra-burning, dungaree-wearing lesbian. ‘Feminism’ is a dirty word. Feminism is dead. Or so I thought.

‘What is it about Sex and the City?’, ‘Can a feminist really love SATC?’ and ‘Feminism vs. Sex and the City?’ were just a few of the questions being asked by journalists during the media frenzy surrounding the long-awaited release of Sex and the City: The Movie last year. Refusing to be disheartened by some of the less optimistic conclusions (‘Carrie Bradshaw’s feminism is a sham’, ‘the mutant spawn of casual feminism’ and the sharp yet concise ‘Sex and the Shitty’), I was amazed that feminism was even being mentioned in the same sentence as a phenomenally successful mainstream television series and soon to be record-breaking movie. Feminism was not only being talked about, it was making headlines: Sex and the City had sparked a debate.

Suddenly, journalists cared whether a television programme was feminist or not; it mattered whether the four main characters - Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte - were being represented in a way that was empowering or disempowering to women. In amongst the obligatory and predictable ‘Steal Carrie’s Style’ features and ‘Which SATC gal are you?’ questionnaires were real thought-provoking, analytical and brutally honest critiques of the show, written from a feminist perspective. From independent blogs to full-blown articles in The Guardian, women were talking about feminism.

When SATC first aired in 1998, it was considered shocking, controversial and innovative, after all, it was a programme that had the balls to be about women, for women. ‘Not only is it a programme about women, but one about women who like each other,’ Alice Wignall wrote in her Guardian column. She continues: ‘They identify as each other’s soul mates and provide emotional, practical and moral support. They don’t compete with each other for male attention. They make each other laugh. It is probably the best depiction of the genuine nature and importance of female friendship ever to win an Emmy.’

As you are probably well aware, the show featured four thirty-something, single friends who would often talk openly and frankly about their sex lives. The characters challenged society’s double standards of sexuality, which considers men’s sexuality natural and acceptable, while that of women is deemed sinful and abnormal. Janet McCabe, co-editor of Reading Sex and the City, a collection of essays about the show, says, ‘The way they spoke, and the things they talked about, were revolutionary. And it was also a great study of female friendship. Ultimately, you just feel that it started with the four of them and they will always be together.’

At last, women could see a part of themselves being reflected back at them in their TV screens, whether it was Carrie’s self-obsessive indulgence, Charlotte’s prim, disapproving looks and undying, romantic optimism, Miranda’s sarcastic remarks or Samantha’s unapologetic love for no-strings sex. SATC told women that it was ok to prioritise your career over a man and that you can spend money on yourself without feeling judged or guilty for it (go on, you’ve earned those Louboutins). It flaunted female sexuality, embraced successful, powerful women and celebrated being single and independent with a Cosmo, or two.

However, when the gals called it a day after 94, count ‘em 94, half-hour episodes spanning six seasons, the general, public consensus was that SATC, whilst it was more fabulous than ever, it’s feminist principals that were at the heart of the first series had become somewhat diluted. What was initially a programme about female empowerment sunk into a veritable orgy of consumerism and an obsession with the search for ‘the one’, something that the more traditional, second wave feminists opposed to.

McCabe, along with her co-editor Kim Akass, says, ‘The women are still caught in fairy-tale narratives. The ‘right’ couple were signalled in the first episode [in which Carrie first meets her on-off lover known only as Mr Big] and in some ways the entire show has just been about them getting together - which, of course, has to be endlessly delayed or you don’t have the driving force behind the story.’ Mr Big (whose name is finally revealed in the closing scenes of the last episode to be, rather predictably John, John James Preston to be precise) is an archetypal New York businessman: arrogant, egocentric and unspeakably rich. Yet we have to watch Carrie go back to him, time after painful time. ‘It does make for quite uncomfortable viewing,’ says Professor Imelda Whelehan, author of The Feminist Bestseller: From Sex and the Single Girl to Sex and the City. ‘How do we respect her? And Mr Big is such an interesting element. Even his name is masculine. He is like this phallus at the centre of it all.’

Frustratingly, towards the end the most significant story-lines were about the characters’ quest for a man and a long-term relationship. At the conclusion of the television programme, all four women - even Samantha, who was never interested in finding love - are all happily paired off. ‘It does seem that, in the end, it had to come back to a traditional view,’ suggests Whelehan, ‘that the future for most women means marriage and children.’ And they all lived happily ever after... which is almost as annoying as ‘and then they woke up, and it was all a dream.’ But, as Akass asks, ‘Is it the case that a strong women can’t desire a husband?’ Of course not! Heterosexuality is not a crime against feminism.

Among all of the man-hunting and Manolos, it is easy to lose sight of the ground-breaking plot-lines that the show tackled, such as mental illness, bereavement, adultery, single motherhood, sexual discrimination and divorce. Some journalists argued that these potentially hard-hitting issues were issues masked by fluff and glitter in the shape of gratuitous sex scenes and ostentatious fashion moments. They also argued that the representation of Carrie and co. as ‘Barbie dolls recessed in the handbag of contemporary white-collar women’ was unfair and hugely disempowering for women. However, because there are so few television programmes purely about women, Sex and the City bears the burden of representation. As Akass elaborates so brilliantly: ‘No one expects The Sopranos to encompass the experience of all middle-aged Italian-American men.’

Whether Sex and the City, the television show, was feminist or not, what most commentators of the programme are overlooking is that feminism is not about being single or breaking free from the so-called ‘restrictive, oppressive shackles of femininity.’ As Linda M Scott says, in her book Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism: ‘Wearing high heels and using hair curlers does not deny you the right to seek advancement, empowerment, and equality.’ A sentiment that the SATC movie very much echoed, including over 300 glorious outfits for the four main girls alone, courtesy of legendary stylist Patricia Field.

Personally, Sex and the City: The Movie was two-and-a-half hours of pleasure, albeit of the guilty kind. Aside from the trivialities, the film discussed serious topics such as ageing, happiness and infertility, all dressed up in an haute couture Vivienne Westwood bridal gown, accessorised with an inexplicable turquoise bird fascinator.

Towards the end of the movie, the four girls toasted their Cosmopolitans to Samantha’s 50th birthday and her new found singledom, challenging preconceived notions of gender and the down-right sexist idea that unattached women are old, lonely, past it, has-been ‘spinsters’, something that is undeniably a feminist issue. Whilst SATC’s brand of feminism may not be perfect (it promotes consumerism, capitalism and, ultimately, you can only ever be truly happy if you conform to societies rules) ‘it seems churlish to be bitter about the fact that Carrie et al do not offer a fail-safe model for emancipated womanhood when nor, frankly, has real-life feminism’, Wignall helpfully points out. She concludes that she is a both a feminist and a fan of Sex and they City: ‘Not least because if you’re about to start letting political doctrine arbitrarily dictate which bits of the culture you respond to you may as well give up now and submit to the patriarchy. But mainly because the programme is funny and clever and it thinks women are important.’ Hear, hear.

However, not everyone was quite so complimentary. Rachel Longhurst wrote in Australian feminist magazine Lip: ‘There’s always going to be the argument that it’s not real life. Here’s the no brainer: I don’t think it’s meant to be. But my question is: are we betraying the things feminism has worked hard for by indulging in such stereotypical fantasy?’ Whilst a blogger on businessweek.com wrote: ‘these women’s career success seems largely predicated on the ability to navigate an exciting web of power struggles and sexually charged innuendoes. All in stilettos!’

Perhaps these naysayers should look beyond the shallow side of SATC and learn from the moral of the movie. Laced throughout the film, was the message: ‘Don’t label one and other’. It questioned the rigid stereotypes that are widely accepted in society and suggested instead that we accept people for what they are (complex and, yes, sometimes contradictory) and stop worrying about pigeon-holing everyone. Carrie and Big were perfectly happy before they allowed society to judge their relationship and question why they weren’t married, as Carrie realises as the film concludes: ‘Maybe some labels are best left in the closet. Maybe when we label people “bride”, “groom”, “husband”, “wife”, “married”, “single” we forget to look past the label to the person... I couldn’t help but wonder: why is it that we are willing to write our own vows, but not our own rules?’ These feminist reviewers, bloggers and journalists seem obsessed with labelling and categorising films, magazines and even behaviour as ‘feminist’ or ‘non-feminist’, ‘empowering’ or ‘disempowering’. Why are they so insistent on labeling what is essentially, just another Hollywood blockbuster? Is it a chick-flick or a post-feminist masterpiece? Both: the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

I suggest that these so-called feminist journalists take on the message of Sex and the City: The Movie. Stop compartmentalising everyone into neat little subsections of society. Don’t worry if something fits into a preconceived and out-dated ideal of ‘pro-feminist’ or ‘anti-feminist’ like an OCD Nazi. Play with fashion, dress exactly how you like, then go out and smash a few stereotypes by being being a feminist and proud. Be a wonderful pick ‘n’ mix of a person; a glorious patchwork; an interesting, multicoloured feminist. Be a walking contradiction. As Kathleen Hanna, singer of riot grrrl rock band Bikini Kill, said in her fanzine Jigsaw Youth: ‘To be a stripper who is also a feminist...These are contradictions I have lived. They exist, these contradictions cuz I exist. Every fucking “feminist” is not the same, every fucking girl is not the same, okay?’

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Lauren Luke is another rather unlikely celebrity. However, the 27-year-old single mother has recently found herself catapulted to global fame for all the right reasons. Lauren’s amateur make-up tutorial videos currently have over 55 million hits on YouTube, earning her the title of ‘the most viewed make-up artist in the world’. But this world-wide success has not gone straight to her head: she still lives in her humble hometown of Newcastle, with her 11-year-old son and her five dogs.

Three years ago, Lauren was unhappy and, with no qualifications after dropping out of school early, working at a taxi office. But she decided to quit her job and begin her own home business, selling beauty products on eBay. Soon, buyers were requesting tips on how to apply their products, so, just two years ago, a visibly nervous Lauren uploaded her very first video: an extremely basic cosmetics tutorial with very little conversation. But there was obviously a demand for such a service, because over 45,000 watched it. Soon, other YouTube users requested celebrity looks and ratings rapidly escalated, the most popular broadcast to date being a Leona Lewis inspired look with over 2.5 million hits, closely followed by Lady Gaga, Kylie, Amy Winehouse, Britney, Rihanna and Angelina Jolie, to name but a few. But it’s not just the big names that draw people to Lauren’s tutorials; they are utterly charming, genuinely helpful and strangely addictive.

The world’s media has also embraced her whole-heartedly, with Elle, Vanity Fair and Look magazine featuring Lauren’s story. The BBC recently broadcast a documentary, tracking her rise to fame, and she has been interviewed for channels all across the world. Whilst this global success has not yet brought riches, it has welcomed a plethora of other business deals, such as exclusive video tutorials sponsored by Barry M and the Guardian, her own weekly beauty column, a Nintendo DS game and a beauty book due to be published by Hodder & Stoughton in October.

Filmed sitting on her bedroom floor, with her pug dog snoring heavily in the background, Lauren’s informal chats to camera are usually upbeat, light-hearted, honest and endearing but are also often personal and heartfelt, as she talks about her painful childhood and crippling low self-esteem. She explains that she enjoys using vibrant make-up as a form of self-expression and escapism and that she has always dreamed of having her own make-up range. Well, now her dream has come true. Now, By Lauren Luke is available to order from anywhere on the planet. Each of five palettes (Luscious Greens, Fierce Violets, Sultry Blues, Vintage Glams and Vintage Classics) contain a concealer, a primer, a gel eye liner, two lip colours, two eye shadows, a highlighter and a blush, to suit all skin tones, eye colours and budgets. What’s more, they’re all free from animal testing.

Lauren also said that she wanted to make ‘a huge change to the make-up industry’. And as a totally grounded, ‘average sized, normal looking’ woman, penetrating a world with an homogenous idea of beauty, Lauren Luke has certainly done that.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Whenever I tell someone that I’m ‘engaged’, their first reaction is always to inspect the diamond ring on my left hand and ask me how he proposed. Well, the truth is, rather disappointingly for them, there is no traditional engagement story. For us, it was a lot more complicated than a weekend trip to Paris, a gourmet meal with a surprise ring hidden in dessert. And yet, it was a lot simpler.

My partner Pete and I had talked about marriage, so we, together, came to the decision that we should take the next step and engaged. A few months later we picked out a ring, and there was, I suppose what you would call a traditional proposal: him, kneeling on one knee, asking me to marry him, to which we both knew the answer would be Yes. There was no cliched romance; no tacky roses or string quartets. Most importantly, Pete didn’t ask for my father’s permission: something that he knew would It was perfect. The next month, I bought Pete an engagement ring and asked him right back. No, will you marry me?!

Almost five years later, Pete and I are still engaged (the term ‘fiance’ still makes me cringe), and we are planning our idea of the perfect wedding for next year. But it will not be a typical wedding; neither of us want to buy into the idea that we need a £500 three-tiered cake, a vintage Rolls Royce and cheap little table favours to have ‘the dream day’. Even during this recession, the wedding industry is still bigger than ever: the average couple will spend around £15,000 on their wedding day, the equivalent to a brand new car or a deposit for a newlywed home. With online gift registers, and Bridal Boot Camps, it’s as though the wedding businesses think as soon as a woman gets a ring on her finger she immediately turns into a Bridezilla.

But it wasn’t just the consumerist side of planning a wedding that turned us off. After much discussion, we realised that neither of us felt comfortable with some of the more sexist traditions. I will not promise to ‘obey’ my husband in my vows, nor will I be ‘given away’ by my father, in the ultimate patriarchal exchange. The bride will not wear white. And that’s just the wedding. The whole concept of marriage is borne out a time when women were property, passed from man to man. As soon as she uttered ‘I do’, everything that she owned automatically became her husbands, including her children and her rights. However, some of their old wedding traditions are still adhered to: phrases such as ‘man and wife’, as opposed to the more equal ‘husband and wife’, and ‘You may now kiss your bride’, as though the woman has no active role in her first married kiss, she must just passively ‘be kissed’. Transforming from a Miss to a Mrs (quite literally Mr’s, as in belonging to Mr), and taking his surname without a second thought are also hang-overs from a pre-feminist era. If I were to become Holly Andrews, as tradition dictates, what would happen to Holly Warren? Would she cease to exist? So, we both came to the decision that we would hyphenate our names, no matter how difficult it was, and that we would become Mr & Ms Warren-Andrews.

And so, next spring, Pete and I will be married in the local Register Office, followed by a meal at our favourite restaurant, surrounded by our favourite people. I will be wearing an off-white dress, holding in season peonies from a nearby florist, and the guests will throw all-natural, ethically sourced floral confetti. But most importantly the two of us will enter into marriage as complete equals.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Allow me to tell you a story: It's the Euros '09 Grand Final. England V Germany. England lose spectacularly. No one gives a fuck. The End.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m outraged that the women’s football is nowhere near as popular, or well publicised, as the men’s – I don’t particularly like sport. Sure, I’ll get swept up in the ‘FOOTBALL’S COMING HOME!’ hysteria once every couple of years when the whole country unites in their blind optimism that England will win the World Cup/Euros. But the rest of the time, I don’t give a shit if Rooney’s metatarsal’s broken or Beckham’s golden boots affect the way he ‘bends it’. So why would I begin to care about the coverage of the recent Women’s European Championship?

Because, the whole of the UK’s media coverage seems to have taken the tone of, ‘Ah, look at these girlies kicking a ball about. Isn’t that sweet? The English team have made it to the finals? They won’t win though… nope, told ya. Do you even know what the off-side rule is, love? No? Bless ‘em for trying though, eh? Well, in the mean time, the blokes’ve only gone and beat Slovenia in a meaningless friendly! They are true heroes. C’MON LADS! THREE LIONS ON A SHIRT…’

Ok, so perhaps this is slightly hyperbolic, but from the way the press were reacting to the female England’s 6-2 defeat in the Euros final against Germany, you would think that they had failed to even qualify for the championship in the first place, as the men did last year – don’t think I’d forgotten. The fact that an English team reached a major final is a huge achievement in itself. But because the players have pink nails, ponytails and sports bras, it’s not such a big deal… actually it’s kind of rubbish they didn’t win. Bloody women!

This bitterness in downplaying the success of female athletes has come from a place of jealousy and resentment. Because the fact is, the England women’s football team are currently better than the men’s, who haven’t been in a final since they lifted the World Cup way back when in ’66. Maybe they should stick to the men’s jobs (diving into the penalty box, rolling around in agony when no-one even tackled you, and randomly shouting ‘REF!’) and just leave the women to the real work.